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Before there was heterosexual and homosexual, before there was a- and bi- and pan- and omni-, there was attraction, just plain attraction to beautiful.


Take for example the Greeks. They were not concerned with the sex or gender, even the age of who they were attracted to. I love the way Charles puts it in his book Sexy Origins and Intimate Things. He writes, "The truth, hard though it may be for us to grasp today, is that people in the past did not define themselves by their sexuality as we have a strong tendency to do. [...] People didn't think of themselves in these terms before the advent of psychology and sexology [...] in the last century. A person's beauty justified attraction to that person. The person's sex was secondary." So, men had sex with men, women, boys, girls and no one talked of labels. Then centuries passed, and the world changed... like it does!

In the United States, 1892, a doctor by the name of James G. Kiernan published and presented an article he wrote for the Chicago Medical Recorder. In this article, he described a mental condition he called heterosexuality. He took the Greek "heteros", meaning different, and the Latin "sexualis", referring to sexuality, to create "Heterosexuality": a different sexuality than was normal at the time. At this time, procreative sex was normal sex: baby-making sex. Sex intended to sidestep this outcome was considered different and perverse. Different, as in if you like both men and women, if you engage in oral or anal or masturbation. Any abnormal form of sexual gratification and you would be considered a sexual deviant: a heterosexual. Let's see, how did our ancestors put it? Heterosexuality is abnormal manifestations of sexual appetite; morbid sexual passion; dangerous; depraved; degenerate; refusing to breed.

To Kiernan and subsequently his colleagues, heterosexuals were a risk to society. Unlike homosexuals, a word he also coined, heterosexuals could, and would, take us down. The old doctor believed that homosexuals were men in women's bodies who liked men or women in men's bodies who liked women. Maybe that's closer to what we view as a modern day trans-straight person. Kiernan believed that homosexuals were sick, but harmless. Heterosexuals were the perverse ones: just out for pleasure, hedonist, deliberately dodging reproduction. They're thinking the only healthy sex is the baby-making kind and everything else is an illness.

Luckily, decades earlier, a young German had already activated a change, before Kiernan ever uttered the word heterosexual. It was the 1860's. A young Benkurt had recently lost a friend to suicide, and Benkurt -- having reason to believe his friend was driven to suicide as a result of extortion (blackmailing, threatening, etc.) because of his affection towards men -- did a POW POW to injustice. He renamed himself Karl-Maria Kertbeny and began publicly challenging the beliefs and laws that deemed same-sex love a no no no. Then, like a lot of successful movers and shakers, our Karl found someone to consult with: a like-minded person, a gay rights activist named Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. They were the two Karls, advocating for same-sex sex to be viewed as diversity, not morality. This meant some social networking, like Facebook message except on paper and you walk it. The goal was to eradicate Germany's anti-fornication laws which would make a lot more trouble for people who liked pleasure, not pregnancy.

To communicate his message, Kertbeny coined some terms: heterosexual and homosexual, the way we mean them today. This was a different time and a different continent and a different way of using the same portmanteau that Kiernan did: hetero-sexual. This is the heterosexual that wins, because you've got sexologists like Richard Von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis picking it up, using it as a way of describing sexual orientation. It's no longer about perverts, it's about how we all have differences in the way we express ourselves. This is all to say that language is constructed, and dynamic.